India is a multi religious and multi cultural country from its known history.Greatness of our nation is highlighted by the unity in diversity maintained by various sections of Indian society.
Secularism in the multi-cultural, multi-lingual and plural society of India a significant role to play in reducing religious conflicts and persecution, upholding human rights and on the whole building a „strong‟ and „unified‟ nation.
Secularism has its origin in western countries and it is related to the separation of the church from the state, which gives the state a position of neutrality between different religions, while at the same time, it guarantees all citizens right to adhere any religion.
In Indian secularism emerged as a basic political ideology in the course of the Indian national struggle for independence. It emerged as the concept of Secular Nationalism in opposition to the nationalism based on the interests of one or the other of the religious communities, therefore also called communalism.
Concept of secularism is based on two basic principles:
(i) Separation of religion from politics.
(ii) Acceptance of religion as purely and strictly private affairs of individuals having nothing to do with the state.
Communalism can be considered an ideology which states that society is divided into religious communities whose interests differ and are at times even opposed to each other. The antagonism practiced by members of one community against the people of other community and religion can be termed communalism.
Secularism even though in modern terms a new concept for India, but Emperor Ashoka was the first great emperor to announce, as early as third century B.C. that, the state would not prosecute any religious sect. In his 12th Rock Edit, Ashoka made an appeal not only for the toleration of all religion sects but also to develop a spirit of great respect toward them. He pleaded for restrain of criticism of other religious sects. He asked people to become perfect in the scriptures of other religions.
In medieval India the Sufi and Bhakti movements bond the people of various communities together ? with love and peace. The leading lights of these movements were Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, Baba Farid, ? Sant Kabir Das, Guru Nanak Dev, Saint Tukaram and Mira Bai. They contributed to the development of a composite culture in such a manner that nobody dares to challenge them.
The Mughal emperor the great Akbar also to a great extent promoted the policy of toleration of different religions. His propagation of Din-e-Illahi (Divine faith) and Sulh-e-kul (Peace with all) were ? highly inspired by the spirit of secularism.
The idea of Secular Nationalism became dominant in the Indian national movement under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. It provided an ideological framework within which the many religious communities of India as well as the plurality of traditional linguistic caste and ethnic cultures (in the formation of which one or other of the religions had played a dominant role) could participate together with the adherents of secular ideologies like Liberalism and Socialism.
The British administration deliberately created rift between the two communities through favouring one against the other. The sphere head of resistance was flattened through offering more concessions and privileges. The Hindu community were generously supported and encouraged at a time when the Muslims rose against the British. Similarly the Muslim community got the patronage of the British when the Hindu nationalism was on the rise.
The ideology and practice of secularism has been most severely criticized by the Hindu fundamentalists. They attack secularism as the principle behind the appeasement of minorities, particularly Muslims. The rise of Hindu fundamentalists create fear in the minority and lead to the rise of communalism.
The communalist tries to divide the society on the basis of religion and they are not doing so for the sole good of the religion, but to attain materialistic benefits in the name of religion.
The Preamble to the Constitution of India signifies that India is a secular state. The Preamble reflects the way of life adopted by Indian citizens for themselves after independence. In fact every civilization has also been a mirror of way of life as well as reflecting movement of human spirit. Religion in each civilizastion has indicated about the faith of human beings in absolute values and a way of life to realize them.